A Lifelong Dream: Valpo gives international student opportunity to pursue NCAA Division I Baseball
Each time Louie Baker ’20 takes the field for the Valparaiso University baseball team, he is making a lifelong dream of playing the sport he loves in the United States a reality.
The fulfillment of that dream comes with a significant sacrifice for the Gold Coast, Australia, native.
“The biggest challenge is not being able to see my family often and only going home once a year,” Louie says. “If something goes wrong, I don’t have family here to support me. When I first came to America, I was an 18-year-old kid and I was moving across the world by myself. There were some incredibly hard times when I was very homesick, but I’ve encountered extremely supportive people and great mentors along the way.”
Louie started playing baseball at age 7 when he signed up to play at a barbecue and quickly fell in love with the sport. His mother, Carolyn, didn’t enjoy cricket because the game was too slow, so he opted to pursue baseball. He also competed in volleyball, rugby, and swimming during his youth, but baseball has always been his first love. It’s that love that led to his willingness to leave family and friends to make his way overseas.
“I had a dream to play baseball at the highest level I possibly could, and I was going to sacrifice everything in order to achieve that goal, even if that meant leaving my family, friends, and culture,” Louie says. “That goal puts a chip on my shoulder every day and provides me with motivation to learn and grow.”
Louie came to America in the fall of 2016 and spent one semester at the University of Central Florida before transferring to Scottsdale Community College. After playing the 2017 and 2018 baseball seasons at the junior college in Scottsdale, Arizona, Louie made his way to Northwest Indiana to join Valpo’s program this season.
“Coming to the United States from Australia was a massive adjustment,” Louie says. “Although we speak English and have some similarities, the culture here is vastly different. There’s a significant difference in the words we say and the way we speak to each other. Americans are much more direct and specific in communication, while in Australia the communication is much more laid-back. I quickly learned who I could trust. I owe a lot of my success to how welcoming and supportive everyone in America has been.”
The final step in Louie’s journey to Valpo came when he identified one of those individuals whom he felt he could trust: Coach Brian Schmack. In his conversations with Coach Schmack leading up to his arrival on Valpo’s campus, Louie quickly developed a bond with the former big-league pitcher who is now in his sixth season in charge of the Valpo baseball program.
“I put a lot of stock into my phone conversations with Coach Schmack,” Louie says. “I was drawn in by his desire for winning and drive for building a program that is competitive in a great conference. Valpo seemed like a place where I could improve athletically and academically. I put a lot of faith in Coach Schmack and my decision to come here was based mostly on my trust in him.”
If there’s one attribute that stands out most about Coach Schmack, it’s his willingness to be a lifelong learner and his desire to learn from everyone around his program. Louie chose Coach Schmack in part to learn from his baseball and life experiences, and the same holds true the other way around.
“I have a lot of respect for a kid who comes from a place that is 9,000 miles away and is willing to take that chance,” Coach Schmack says. “That shows a lot about his character and his drive to be successful. It’s interesting to have conversations with him about his culture and how it’s different from ours. Having Louie around our program has given me and others the opportunity to gain knowledge and insight on baseball, culture, and life in Australia.”
How Louie has embraced the challenge of coming from afar to play college baseball hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“What sticks out in my mind about Louie is how crazy it must be coming here from Australia,” Christian Barczi ’20 says. “It’s a completely new world. I really admire how he has handled that transition. He is extremely courteous to everyone, and that helps him blend in. We all respect his background and know it can’t be easy coming from overseas. He fit in right away. He’s a good teammate and treats everyone extremely well.”
Much like his path to Valpo, Louie’s major is unique. He is studying commerce and leadership, an individualized major within the College of Business.
“My major allows me to blend business with finance and economics,” Louie says. “I appreciate the opportunity to individualize my major because I am able to prepare myself with classes that are most applicable to the career I want to enter. I like working with people, and I believe my studies at Valpo will open doors for me to do that in some capacity as I pursue a career here in the United States after graduation.”
All business majors at Valpo complete an internship prior to graduation, which will aid Louie’s career preparation and offer opportunities to network with a variety of companies as he seeks to enter the United States workforce.
In a conversation with Louie, the greatest challenge of being here in the United States is sure to come up time and time again: He is far away from his supportive and sports-oriented family. He misses his parents, Carolyn and Damian; his 13-year-old brother BJ; and his 18-year-old sister Jasmin. But the bonds that he has formed on Valpo’s campus make him feel right at home.
“Every coach talks about having a brotherhood in the locker room, but that doesn’t always end up being the case,” Louie says. “At Valpo, it’s genuine. We have a diverse group with me from overseas, a player from Canada, and many from the West Coast. We’ve come together and really do like each other. That’s allowed me to be a part of something special with Valpo baseball.”